ARCA Back in Action


Brennan Poole (left) won in his ARCA debut at Salem last May. (Photo: ARCA Racing)

Nearly 50 full days will have passed by the time the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards takes the green flag for the third race of the 2012 season, and drivers are ready to get back behind the wheel.

The series last raced at Mobile International Speedway on Saturday, March 10, with Cale Gale winning at his home track. Gale now leads the driver point standings, but neither he nor Daytona race winner Bobby Gerhart are entered at Salem Speedway for Sunday's Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200. That means a new race winner in ARCA's 60th Anniversary Season is sure to drive to Victory Lane, and a new points leader will take over.

One candidate is Brennan Poole, whose position in second behind Gale is far from the only reason he could easily assume the top spot. Poole won in his ARCA debut at Salem last May, edging eventual series champion Ty Dillon and nine-time Salem winner Frank Kimmel in a race extended from the scheduled 200 laps to 206. Poole is one of six drivers entered for Venturini Motorsports, which also boasts last September's Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell winner at Salem, Clint King, and the ARCA Racing Series' first 15-year-old competitor, Erik Jones.

Numerous other drivers are expected to contend in ARCA's 91st event at Salem, which will continue a stretch of racing that dates back to 1955 at the demanding half-mile oval in southern Indiana.

One of those competitors is Chad Hackenbracht, who sits just behind Poole in the point standings. He will enter this weekend having earned his career high at Mobile, a second-place finish. Hackenbracht finished 19th and 17th in two Salem efforts last year for CGH Motorsports, but earned four top-10 finishes in other short track events in 2011.

Chris Buescher won at Salem last fall, part of a five-race stretch in which he won three times and finished second twice to seal the second position in the final driver standings and ARCA's Rookie of the Year Award over Dillon. He's back in 2012, entered with teammate Brandon Davis for Roulo Brothers Racing.

After winning at Salem in 2007, Brian Keselowski is back for another attempt at Salem, driving his own Chevrolet. He, Poole, Buescher, and Kimmel are the only past Salem winners entered for this weekend's field.

Other top-10 finishers from last year's races who are entered at Salem this weekend include Will Kimmel (second in September), Jared Marks (fourth in September), Josh Williams (sixth in May), and Tom Hessert (seventh in May).

If there's one characteristic of Salem Speedway that keeps drivers talking and coming back year after year, it's the sheer intimidation factor of the slippery high banks. For years, drivers and teams have worked harder at Salem than at nearly any other facility to master setups and strategies, and that's why success there can be so rewarding.

"Salem's one of those places you just can't wait to get back to," said Andy Belmont Racing's Mikey Kile, who finished fourth for Venturini Motorsports in September 2010, his most recent Salem attempt. "It's one of my favorite short tracks. The place is intimidating, that's for sure, but that's one of the beauties and why it continues to put on a good show for the fans all these years."

Alex Bowman won in his short track debut at Madison last summer, and then won the Menards Pole Award presented by Ansell at Mobile last month. Considering he's driving for a Cunningham Motorsports organization that won at Salem two autumns ago with Dakoda Armstrong, there's no reason to think he can't be a contender Sunday. However, he sees in the track many of the same characteristics Kile and other drivers see.

"I'd say that (Turns) 3 and 4 are the most unique corners of any track I've ever been on," Bowman said. "Unforgiving would be another way I'd describe it. (It's) really fast too."

Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott will make his second ARCA Racing Series start, driving a Chevrolet for Bill Elliott Racing. The 16-year-old finished 10th at Mobile in March, and tested Salem's high, 33-degree corner banks last week to prepare for the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200. His father, NASCAR champion Bill, will attend the race and participate in an autograph session with the starting ARCA field on the track at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

On-track activity begins with two 45-minute practices at noon and 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and continues with Menards Pole Qualifying presented by Ansell at 3:30 p.m.

The 200-lap, 111-mile Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 will begin at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 29.

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